SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND
WILLIAM, MICHAEL ROSSETTI.
PRINTED FOR PRIVATE CIRCULATION,
SHELLEY'S "PROMETHEUS UNBOUND."
Of this Book
Twenty-five Copies only have been printed.
PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY,
FROM THE ORIGINAL PICTURE BY CLINT
MEANING AND PERSONAGES.
WILLIAM M. ROSSETTI.
PRINTED FOR PRIVATE DISTRIBUTION.
SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UHBOUHD.
A STUDY OF ITS MEANING AND PERSONAGES.
BY WILLIAM M. ROSSETTI.
Being a Lecture delivered to the Shelley Society
on Jth December, 1886.
Ladies and Gentlemen, —
I have undertaken to deliver to the members of
the Shelley Society a lecture constituting a study of our
poet's most colossal performance, the Prometheus Unbound.
This is, I am fully aware, a task which might well appall
the boldest of Shelleyites : nor do I undertake it with a
light heart, or with any idea of rendering adequate justice
to it from any point of view — still less from all the points
of view which might properly be taken. It would be
possible to consider the Prometheus Unbound — 1, in its
essential meaning or main outline and purport ; 2, as a
poem and work of art ; and 3, in detail, or the individual
significance and value of its successive passages. I can
only expect, in the short space at my disposal, to treat the
drama in the first of these relations — z.£,, in its essential
meaning or main outline and purport ; in other words, I
will explain to you what I regard as having been Shelley's
intention in the substance and structure of his masterpiece,
the Prometheus Unbound. My interpretation may be right,
or it may be wrong : it will certainly fall very far short
of being final or exhaustive. It is at any rate the out-
come of repeated readings and prolonged consideration.
I might add that this is by no means the first time that I
have put into writing, or into print, my view of the meaning
8 SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND.
of the poem ; but it is the first time that I have done so
with any moderate degree of fullness or precision, and
with the opportunity of quoting from the poem itself those
passages upon which the interpretation has to rely for its
stability — what the French call the pieces justificatives.
Without further preface, I will now come to close
quarters with Prometheus Unbound ; and, asking you to
bear in mind what I have just said — that I deal only with
its essential meaning or main outline and purport — I shall
analyse this meaning under five principal heads — i,What
is the Myth, or (as we might call it) the vertebrated skele-
ton, of the Prometheus Unbound ; 2, Who is Prometheus ;
3, Who is Asia ; 4, Who is Jupiter ; 5, Who is Demogorgon.
And 1, as to the Myth.
In debating the Myth of Prometheus Unbound, I shall
leave entirely on one side the question as to what is the
primary Greek myth about Prometheus the son of Iapetus.
He must take care of himself: and ^Eschylus, or any other
poet or promulgator of that myth, must take care of him-
self. With Shelley alone, and his creation the Prometheus
Unbound, can I now be concerned. He voluntarily and
determinately parted company with ^schylus, saying in
his preface that he was "averse from a catastrophe so
feeble as that of reconciling the Champion with the
Oppressor of mankind."
The general myth of Prometheus Unbound is set forth
very definitely in a leading speech of Asia in Act 2. I
will read it in extenso, and afterwards consider in detail its
terms and bearing.
" There was the Heaven and Earth at first,
And Light and Love ; then Saturn, from whose throne
Time fell, an envious shadow. Such the state
Of the earth's primal spirits beneath his sway-
As the calm joy of flowers and living leaves
Before the wind or sun has withered them,
And semivital worms. But he refused
The birthright of their being, knowledge, power,
The skill which wields the elements, the thought
Which pierces this dim universe like light,
Self-empire, and the majesty of love ;
For thirst of which they fainted. Then Prometheus
Gave wisdom, which is strength, to Jupiter,
And, with this law alone ' Let man be free,'
Clothed him with the dominion of wide Heaven.
SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND,
To know nor faith nor love nor law, to be
Omnipotent but friendless, is to reign.
And Jove now reigned ; for on the race of Man
First famine, and then toil, and then disease,
Strife, wounds, and ghastly death unseen before,
Fell ; and the unseasonable seasons drove,
"With alternating shafts of frost and fire,
Their shelterless pale tribes to mountain-caves :
And in their desert hearts fierce wants he sent,
And mad disquietudes, and' shadows idle
Of unreal good, which levied mutual war,
So ruining the lair wherein they raged.
Prometheus saw, and waked the legioned hopes
Which sleep within folded elysian flowers,
Nepenthe, moly, amaranth, fadeless blooms,
That they might hide with thin and rainbow wings
The shape of Death ; and Love he sent to bind
The disunited tendrils of that vine
"Which bears the wine of life, the human heart ;
And he tamed fire, — which, like some beast of prey
Most terrible but lovely, played beneath
The frown of man, and tortured to his will
Iron and gold, the slaves and signs of Power,
And gems and poisons, and all subtlest forms
Hidden beneath the mountains and the waves.
He gave Man speech, and speech created thought,
"Which is the measure of the universe ;
And science struck the thrones of earth and heaven,
"Which shook but fell not ; and the harmonious mind
Poured itself forth in all-prophetic song ;
And music lifted up the listening spirit,
Until it walked, exempt from mortal care,
Godlike, o'er the clear billows of sweet sound ;
And human hands first mimicked, and then mocked
With moulded limbs more lovely than its own,
The human form, till marble grew divine,
And mothers, gazing, drank the love men see
Reflected in their race, behold, and perish.
He told the hidden power of herbs and springs,
And Disease drank and slept. Death grew like sleep.
He taught the implicated orbits woven
Of the wide-wandering Stars ; and how the Sun
Changes his lair, and by what secret spell
The pale Moon is transformed when her broad eye
Gazes not on the interlunar sea.
He taught to rule, as life directs the limbs,
The tempest-winged chariots of the ocean
And the Celt knew the Indian. Cities then
Were built, and through their snow-like columns flowed
The warm winds, and the azure ether shone,
And the blue sea and shadowy hills were seen.
Such, the alleviations of his state,
Prometheus gave to man : for which he hangs,
Withering in destined pain. But who rains down
Evil, the immedicable plague, which, while
Man looks on his creation like a God,
io SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND.
And sees that it is glorious, drives him on, —
The wreck of his own will, the scorn of Earth,
The outcast, the abandoned, the a'one?
Not Jove. While yet his frown shook heaven, ay when
His adversary from adamantine chains
Cursed him, he trembled like a slave. Declare
Who is his master ? Is he too a slave ? "
This speech is fertile of meaning and suggestion. We
find that according to Asia (or, let us say, according to
Shelley) the primal powers of the World were four —
Heaven, Earth, Light, and Love. This was the world ;
which, so far as Asia's speech is concerned, is postulated as
self-existent, — of a creative power no word is breathed by
her : but it is true that Demogorgon, with whom she is in
colloquy, had already said that the world and its contents
were made by God. Then came Saturn, the author of
Time. Under him human life was agreeable sensation
without sentiment : life became (as we might express it)
individuated, but barely self-conscious ; Saturn refused to
men the birthright of their being — knowledge, power, and
those other prerogatives named by Asia. The Saturnian
reign was interrupted by Prometheus.
Gave wisdom, which is strength, to Jupiter,
And, with this law alone ' Let man be free,'
Clothed him with the dominion of wide Heaven."
I regard these few words as being supremely important
to the correct understanding of Prometheus Unbound: but,
as we are for the present only occupied with the myth of
the poem, I shall not analyse them here, but leave them
for consideration when we discuss Prometheus and Jupiter.
The rule of Jupiter was perfidious and cruel : every kind
of material and moral evil resulted from it to the race
of man. Prometheus again came to the rescue.
"He gave Man speech, and speech created thought,
Which is the measure of the universe."
For this, and for his other boons to mankind, was he
doomed by Jupiter to incessant torture.
Asia then proceeds (as we have seen) to ask, " Who is the
Author or Lord of Evil ? " Not Jove, as she says ; for he
trembled even before his own victim Prometheus.
11 Who is his master ? Is he too a slave ? "
SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. n
Demogorgon replies —
1 • All spirits are enslaved which serve things evil :
Thou know'st if Jupiter be such or no."
This certainly means, he is a slave.
Asia next recurs to what Demogorgon had said in the
earlier part of the colloquy, that God had made the world,
with all that it contains of thought and sentiment : she
asks, " Whom call'dst thou God ? " — and Demogorgon re-
plies (note it well) —
" I spoke but as ye speak,
For Jove is the supreme of living things. "
In other words — There is no creative God, apart from the
Universe. He adds that the deep truth is imageless — it
cannot be made palpable in words ; and he intimates that,
save eternal Love, all things are subject to Fate, Time,
Occasion, Chance, and Change. Shelley's own ideas in
theology are probably expressed in these terms with a near
approach to accuracy.
Prometheus, chained by Jupiter to Caucasus in torment,
endures " three-thousand years of sleep-unsheltered hours."
This is a remarkable expression : three-thousand years is
but a brief estimate even of the historical period of human
development ; and, as the unbinding of Prometheus ensues
immediately after his speaking of the three-thousand years,
it would appear that Shelley contemplated a very early
awakening and emancipation of the race. But of course
we must not lay, upon such a point as this, any stress
beyond what it may naturally have been intended to bear.
At the end of the three-thousand years Prometheus has
ceased to disdain or hate Jupiter : he pities him. He
wishes no living thing to suffer pain. He re-hears, from
the phantom lips of a phantom Jupiter summoned for the
purpose, the curse which he had of old pronounced against
the tyrant god, and he revokes it. He is then re-tormented
by the Furies with visions chiefly intimating that evil flows
out of good — as out of the mission of Jesus Christ and the
French Revolution. The agonizing night closes, a new
dawn appears, and Panthea, one of the sister Ocean-nymphs
who attend on Prometheus, rejoins in an Indian vale his
bride and her sister Asia.
Asia and Panthea are led by mysterious spirit-songs to
12 SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND.
the cave of Demogorgon ; with the message that meekness
alone can unloose to life the doom from under the throne
of the Eternal. This meekness in Asia corresponds to the
forgiving mood of mind, the universal charity, which Pro-
metheus has just evinced. Then ensues the colloquy
between Asia and Demogorgon, of which we have been
reading a part. Asia finally asks " When will the destined
Hour arrive " for the release of Prometheus ? "Behold ! " is
the reply of Demogorgon. At that very moment the Hour
arrives : Demogorgon mounts the car which conveys the
Hour, and they disappear into space, the Spirit of the
Hour having announced that he comes for the final
dethronement of Jupiter.
That which immediately follows seems to have more
relation to Greek mythology than to the Shelleian myth
of Prometheus Unbound: at any rate, its connexion with
the former up to a certain point is clear, while its signifi-
cance for the purposes of the latter is ambiguous. Jupiter,
among the gods of Heaven or Olympus, is celebrating his
nuptials with the sea-goddess Thetis — " Thetis, bright
image of Eternity." He forecasts that the result of their
nuptials will be that he will himself become omnipotent,
subduing his last opponent or rebel, the soul of man. He
says (and this I cannot attempt to present with more
clearness and condensation than Shelley gives it) —
11 Even now have I begotten a strange wonder —
That fatal Child, the terror of the earth,
Who waits but till the destined Hour arrive
(Bearing from Demogorgon's vacant throne
The dreadful might of ever-living limbs
Which clothed that awful spirit unbeheld)
To re-descend and trample out the spark."
He adds (putting the same thing in slightly different
words) that the two mighty spirits, himself and Thetis,
have generated another spirit mightier than either, await-
ing even now its incarnation from Demogorgon's throne.
Thus far Jupiter's vision has served him : but his prevision
has deceived him wofully. Demogorgon at this moment
arrives. He pronounces the words,
"lam thy child, as thou wert Saturn's child
Mightier than thou " —
and summons Jupiter to descend with him into The abyss
SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND: 13
— " We must dwell together Henceforth in darkness/' For
one instant Jupiter attempts to resist and destroy his
antagonist. At the next moment, he has nothing for it but
abject and unavailing prayers, and he sinks " Dizzily down,
ever for ever down."
Hercules now unbinds Prometheus from his Caucasian
rock, and the Titan is reunited with Asia, who, along with
Panthea, has arrived in the car of another Spirit of the
Hour. Prometheus speaks to lone of a shell which had
been given by Proteus as a nuptial-boon to Asia, breathing
within it a voice to be accomplished : lone had, in the day
of calamity, hidden it beneath a rock. He asks lone to
deliver this shell to the Spirit of the Hour, with " the
dovelike eyes of Hope ;" the Spirit is to traverse the world
blowing the shell, for now at length shall its voice be
accomplished. Mother Earth, who assumes a personal
presence as she had done in the first scene of the drama,
says that henceforth all her animal and vegetable progeny
shall take sweet nutriment. Death shall be but like a
mother resuming final possession of her child : but she
cannot define to the questioning Asia what Death actually
is — only thus —
" Death is the veil which those who live call life —
They sleep, and it is lifted."
Then comes " a Spirit in the likeness of a winged child."
This is " the Spirit of the Earth " : not Earth herself the
general mother, but " the delicate spirit that guides the
earth through heaven." After Prometheus, Asia, and their
company, have arrived at the cavern which is to be their
dwelling-place, this Spirit describes what he has seen as
consequent upon the sounding of the shell by the Spirit of
the Hour : an all-pervasive amelioration in Man and
Nature. The Spirit of the Hour next returns, and relates
the result of his mission. The change which has just
been wrought was not abruptly startling, but thrones were
kingless, women elevated in sentiment, "all things had
put their evil nature off"; kingfishers, for instance (as
just previously stated by the Spirit of the Earth), having
become vegetarians. The temples of Jupiter, in his
various forms or attributes, are now mouldering. • Man
Is not 'passionless, he is still man ; but he is free from
14 SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND.
guilt or pain, and can rule, though not evade, "chance
and death and mutability." In the last act of the
stupendous drama the Spectres of the dead Hours bear
Time to his tomb in Eternity, and a new series of Hours,
which had for ages been suppressed, take their places.
The Spirits of the Mind, which had consoled Prometheus
in his hour of agony in the first Act after the torturing
of the Furies, now reappear, and chant their song of
deliverance and triumph. Next, lone and Panthea wit-
ness a grand and glorious vision : the cars of the Moon-
spirit and of the Earth-spirit. The Moon has become
vitalized by the influence of the regenerated Earth, and
the two Spirits address one another in terms of human
love. Man, says the Spirit of the Earth, has now become
a sea reflecting love ; while labour, pain, and grief, are
gentle as tame beasts. It may be worth while to consider
for a moment what appears to have been Shelley's idea
in relation to this child-like Spirit of the Earth, who (as
we have already seen) appears along with the ancient
Mother Earth, parent of Titans and of men, and must
therefore symbolize something different from her. In
the scene of his first appearance, he addresses Asia as
"Mother, dearest Mother;" an expression which may
become clearer to us after we shall have endeavoured to
define the personality of Asia herself. He was a child
when the dismal severance of Asia and Prometheus came
to pass, and remains as yet a child now that they are
re-united in rapture. Perhaps we should see in this Spirit
an emblem of the childhood of the world in its golden
prime before Prometheus had been chained ; a child now
resuming his career of development, and preparing for his
larger and unbounded destinies. From another point of
view, as he is "the delicate spirit that guides the earth
through heaven," we might regard him as the perpetual
rejuvenescence of the earth, renewed from day to day,
from season to season, from year to year, and from aeon
to seon — never wearied, never ageing, a perpetual child
among the stars of the firmament. From a passage in
the note written by Mrs. Shelley to the drama, it would
appear that Shelley advisedly intended, in this final act
of it, .to give a new and diverse symbol of the Earth. She
says, " In the fourth Act the poet: gives further scope to
SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 15
his imagination, and idealizes the forms of creation — such
as we know them, instead of such as they appeared to the
Greeks. Maternal Earth the mighty parent is superseded
by the Spirit of the Earth, the guide of our planet through
the realms of sky."
We now come to the last utterance, the last passage, of
Prometheus Unbound. Demogorgon rises. He addresses
Daemons and Gods, living beyond heaven's constellated
wildernesses; he addresses the Dead, who may (the poet
leaves the point undetermined) be of the nature of the
universe, or may change and pass away. This is the day
which, at the spell of the Earthborn, of the Titan Prome^
theus, yawns for Heaven's despotism. Gentleness, Virtue,
Wisdom, and Endurance (the qualities which have sus-
tained Prometheus through his agelong agonies), are the
seals to bar the pit over Destruction's strength. To suffer,
to forgive, to defy, to love, to hope, neither to change nor
falter nor repent — this is alone life, joy, empire, and
victory. So, with trumpet-tone as of a world emancipated
through the sum of its human greatness, terminates the
Prometheus Unbound of Shelley.
The general moral conceptions upon which this drama
proceeds are, I think, sufficiently self-evident : the observa-
tions which I shall proceed to make upon the personality
of Prometheus, and of the other agents in the drama, will
aim to make that point all the more perspicuous. I will
therefore at this stage limit myself to quoting a few words
from Mrs. Shelley's note to Prometheus Unbound: — "The
prominent feature," she says, " of Shelley's theory of the
destiny of the human species, was that evil is not inherent
in the system of the creation, but an accident that might
be expelled. Shelley believed that mankind had only to
will that there should be no evil, and there would be none.
It is not my part in these notes to notice the arguments
that have been urged against this opinion, but to mention
the fact that he entertained it, and was indeed attached
to it with fervent enthusiasm. That man could be so
perfectionized as to be able to expel evil from his own
nature, and from the greater part of the creation, was the
cardinal point of his system." No doubt Mrs. Shelley
speaks correctly here. The idea which Shelley thus
symbolizes in Prometheus Unbound is the very same which
16 SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND.
animates Queen Mab, and which is formulated in Julian
and Maddalo, — not to speak of other poems, especially The
Revolt of Islam,
There is one point in Shelley's theory of the perfecti-
bility of man — of man as he shall exist after the unbind-
ing of Prometheus — which I should like to illustrate out
of one of his notes to Queen Mab. It will have been
observed that Shelley does not — even in this symbolic
or allegorical method of exposition — contemplate that
man will become deathless ; on the contrary, he says
expressly that man will remain subject to death, and
what death is he declines to attempt defining with any
precision. But there is a certain sense in which human
life might be extended or protracted ad infinitum ; the
note to Queen Mab propounds this. It runs thus : —
"Time is our consciousness of the succession of ideas in our mind. Vivid
sensation of either pain or pleasure makes the time seem long, as the common
phrase is, because it renders us more acutely conscious of our ideas. If a mind
be conscious of a hundred ideas during one minute by the clock, and of two
hundred during another, the latter of these spaces would actually occupy so much
greater extent in the mind as two exceed one in quantity. If therefore the
human mind, by any future improvement of its sensibility, should become con-
scious of an infinite number of ideas in a minute, that minute would be eternity.
I do not hence infer that the actual space between the birth and death
of a man will ever be prolonged ; but that his sensibility is perfectible, and
that the number of ideas which his mind is capable of receiving is indefinite.
Thus the life of a man of virtue and talent who should die in his thirtieth year
is, with regard to his own feelings, longer than that of a miserable priest-ridden
slave who dreams out a century of dullness."
How significant has become to us that phrase about the
" man of virtue and talent who should die in his thirtieth
year ! " It is the very age at which Shelley himself died.
I have now done with the myth of Prometheus Unbound,
and I proceed to my second stage — the inquiry, " Who
is Prometheus ? "
This inquiry I shall at once answer by saying that
Prometheus is the Mind of Man. I wish to emphasize this
point, for I think the amplitude and precision of meaning
in this great ideal drama are only elicited when we have
realized the definition to ourselves. Prometheus is not in
a vague general sense man, collective humankind ; he is
the mind of man — human mind— the intellect of the race —
SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 17
that faculty whereby man is man, not brute. The unbind-
ing of Prometheus is the unbinding of the Human Mind ;
the deliverance wrought to mankind by the unbinding of
Prometheus is the deliverance wrought to man by the
unbinding of his mind. This, I venture to say, is a
distinction not without a difference ; and Mrs. Shelley
was but half-way towards the truth when she wrote that
her husband figured " Saturn as the good principle,
Jupiter the usurping evil one, and Prometheus as the
regenerator." Another of her definitions comes much
nearer the mark, but still does not exactly hit it : " Prome-
theus," she says, " is, as it were, the type of the highest
perfection of moral and intellectual nature, impelled by
the truest and the purest motives to the best and noblest
ends." Let me next endeavour to prove, out of Shelley's
own mouth, that he wished us to identify Prometheus
with the Mind of Man.
Shelley's Prometheus is a Titan, a son of Mother Earth.
Thus Shelley assumes the Mind of Man as earth-born.
In the first Scene, Prometheus says to Earth,
"Mother, thy sons and thou
Scorn him without whose all-enduring will
Beneath the fierce omnipotence of Jove
Both they and thou had vanished : "
a phrase quite appropriate to the mind, as the sustaining
and preserving power of the human race. As we have
seen, Prometheus has in this first scene attained to the
passion of universal benevolence : he wishes well to all
things, evil to none — not now even to Jupiter. In the
curse which he had of old hurled against Jupiter, and
which he now gets a phantom to recite, are the words,
14 O'er all things but thyself I gave thee power,
And my own will : "
a deeply significant phrase, partly as indicating the
unvanquishable power of will in the Human Mind, and
partly as showing that the Mind itself is that which has
allotted or ascribed power to the Vicissitude of the World :
but this will be more fully developed when we come to
speak of Jupiter. " I gave all he has " is a later phrase
still pointing in the same direction. One of the Furies
18 SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND.
says to Prometheus, " Dost thou boast the clear know-
ledge thou waken'dst for man ? " and whence does the
knowledge of man proceed save from his mind ? Similarly
Hercules, in unbinding Prometheus, addresses him as the
form animated by "wisdom, courage, and long-suffering
love" — all of them attributes of the mind. The Soul of
Love is the hope and prophecy which begins and ends in
Prometheus. We must, however, recur to that great
speech addressed by Asia to Demogorgon. In this speech
Prometheus is introduced immediately after Asia has
spoken of the state of mankind under the sway of Saturn ;
how men were destitute of knowledge, power, the thought
which pierces the universe, and other high endowments
of their nature. The very first thing which we hear from
Asia about Prometheus is this,
Gave wisdom, which is strength, to Jupiter,
And, with this law alone ' Let man be free,'
Clothed him with the dominion of wide Heaven."
Profoundly significant words, to which we are bound to
attach a positive meaning. I read them thus. When men
had reached this half-development of their faculties, and
pined eagerly for more, the Mind of Man invested Jupiter
with wisdom, or regarded him as the embodiment and
source of wisdom, and ascribed to him the dominion of
heaven ; in other words, the Mind of Man created a God
after its own image. But Jupiter persecuted the race of
man with divers plagues unknown before. Asia proceeds : —
" Promethus saw, and waked the legioned hopes
Which sleep within folded elysian flowers " —
and so on : we have already perused the passage. Again
let us interpret. The Mind of Man raised up the hopes
of an immortal destiny ; it developed mutual love in
humankind ; it used fire for all useful services. It gave
man speech, and speech created thought ; poetry, music,
sculpture, medicine, astronomy, navigation, architecture : —
" Such, the alleviations of his state,
Prometheus gave to man : for which he hangs
Withering in destined pain."
If once we miss out the word Prometheus, and sub-
stitute the term " the Human Mind," we can readily
SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 19
understand the assertion that it is the Human Mind
which has conferred all these benefits upon the race of
man. But the Mind of Man is oppressed and tormented
by the very God of its own installation, or (to put it in a
merely prosaic phrase) by its own false and superstitious
conceptions in theology ; • and in its own essence it is
tainted with the passions of rage, hatred, and revenge.
To these passions Prometheus had given utterance in his
curse of old agai-nst Jupiter. It is only at the opening of
our ideal drama, after his " three-thousand years of sleep-
unsheltered hours," that Prometheus the Human Mind
utterly rejects these peccant elements — he says at last that
he is changed so that aught evil wish is dead within, and
he has no memory of what is hate —
u It doth repent me : words are quick and vain :
Grief for a while is blind, and so was mine :
I wish no living thing to suffer pain."
As we have already seen, this final superiority of the mind
over its darker passions is the beginning of the downfall of
Jupiter, and of the unbinding of Prometheus.
In the third Act of the drama we find Prometheus
unbound, and about to retire with Asia and their company
into a cavern, which, as Prometheus avers, has a peculiar
virtue of bringing to itself the echoes of the human world,
and the lovely apparitions
" Of painting, sculpture, and rapt poesy,
And arts, though unimagined, yet to be.'
This cavern (we may not be far wrong in thinking) is
the cavern of the human mind — the recesses of creative
and contemplative thought, vocal with human sympathy,
fertile of human enlightenment and elevation. It is
situated " beyond Indus and its tribute rivers/' or in the
traditional home of the intellectual Aryan race. This is
the same cavern in which Mother Earth, at the time when
Prometheus became the thrall and victim of Jupiter, had
panted forth her spirit in anguish, and men became mad,
inhaling the breath of Earth, and raised there a temple
to Jupiter, and hard by a temple also to Prometheus :
emblems of that confusion and perversion of thought when
the aspirations of some of the sons of men struggle against
20 SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND.
the superstitions and supernatural terrors of others. The
plan of life which Prometheus lays out for himself and his
companions in the cavern sounds vague enough : it consists
in fact of mere mental and spiritual emotion, and creative
or assimilative acts of thought — bodily energy has no place
in it : in short, it is to be the life of the mind of man, and
not of the faculties which he develops as an agent, either
individually or in society. Therefore I again answer the
question " Who is Prometheus ? ** by saying " He is the
Mind of Man." Or let us take an illustration from
zoological science. As we all know, man is zoologically
defined as Homo Sapiens. Homo is his generic name,
Sapiens his specific name. Shelley's Prometheus then
represents to us man in his species.: he represents the
Sapiens, as distinguished from the generalized Homo.
My third inquiry was to be " Who is Asia ? " This point
is I think a little less clear. We might be inclined to
regard the union of Prometheus and Asia as the union of
Mind and Body, or of Mind and Beauty, or of the Intel-
lectual and the Emotional or Loving elements in the
Human Soul. But all these definitions, though admissible
in some partial degree, appear inadequate — they do not go
far enough. It seems to me that Mrs. Shelley's observa-
tion, in her note to Prometheus Unbound, is entirely right
— namely, that Asia symbolizes Nature. She says : " Asia,
one of the Oceanides, is the wife of Prometheus: she
was, according to other mythological interpretations, the
same as Venus and Nature. When the benefactor of
mankind is liberated, Nature resumes the beauty of her
prime, and is united to her husband in perfect and happy
union." Let us follow out this clue a little in detail.
The first mention of Asia occurs in a speech of Pro-
metheus at the close of the first Act. Her sister Panthea
replies saying :
" And Asia waits in that far Indian vale,
The scene of her sad exile : rugged once
And desolate and frozen, like this ravine ;
But now invested with fair flowers and herbs,
And haunted by sweet airs and sounds which flow
Among the woods and waters, from the ether
Of her transforming presence, which would fade
If it were mingled not with thine."
SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 21
This strikes the exact keynote. Nature transforms a
desert into a thing of beauty : but it is only by association
with Mind — with Human Mind, as we know it — that
Nature has substantive or conscious being : but for the
mind which contemplates and imbues it, Nature would be
a practical nullity — it would have no phenomenal exist-
ence. When Asia, in the speech which immediately
ensues, speaks of Prometheus as " that soul by which I
live," she utters no rhetorical commonplace of sentiment,
but announces a strict philosophical truth. In a speech of
Panthea, Asia is referred to as " her whose footsteps pave
the world with loveliness." The Echoes which guide Asia
and Panthea on towards the throne of Demogorgon sing
to Asia —
" In the world unknown
Sleeps a voice unspoken :
By thy step alone
Can its rest be broken,
Child of Ocean."
Nature alone, the unfathomed Evolution of Things, can
bring the arcane decree into being : as expressed in the
same connection, " A spell is treasured but for thee alone."
She is to go
" To the rents and gulfs and chasms
Where the Earth reposed from spasms
On the day when he and thou
Parted, to commingle now : "
Nature is to return to that point where the temporary
divorce between herself and Human Mind, under the
oppression of Jupiter, had been effected.
Realizing to ourselves that Asia is Nature, we find a
deepened significance in that great dialogue of hers with
Demogorgon to which I have more than once referred ; for
what more fitting than that Nature should narrate the course
of things material, and the drama of human life and of
the Mind of Man, and should finally have to inquire — Who
is the author of it all ? Is it God, and what is God ? Even
before this dialogue, while she stood upon the u pinnacle
of rock among mountains," Asia had questioned whether
or rot Earth were " the shadow of some Spirit lovelier
still." After the dialogue, when Demogorgon has departed
22 SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND.
to operate the downfall of Jupiter, and when Asia and
Panthea, with the Spirit of the Hour, are in the car, and
pause " within a cloud on the top of a snowy mountain,"
Panthea says that the beauty of her sister has become
almost unbearable. She also refers to that day of old
" when the clear hyaline was cloven at thy uprise," and
when " Love burst from thee and illumined earth and
heaven," withother details which clearly enough apply to
Aphrodite or Venus, thus identified as an embodiment, or
(to borrow a word from a different theosophy) an avatar,
of Nature. This, as Panthea says, was before grief eclipsed
the soul of Asia : now it is the whole world which seeks
her sympathy. The entire passage and its imagery bear
upon that glorifying transfigurement of Nature which,
according to the Shelleian idea in this drama, accompanies
pari passu the liberation of the Human Mind, Prometheus.
Then a " Voice in the Air " addresses Asia as " Life of
Life " — " Lamp of Earth " — " all feel yet see thee never."
Next follows Asia's rapturous response, the transcendent
lyric, " My soul is an enchanted boat ; " which can be
understood in this connection, though it half evades, half
defies, analysis or exposition. She has traversed in her
spirit-guided course the regions of Age, Manhood, Youth,
and Infancy, passing " through Death and Birth to a
diviner day — peopled by shapes too bright to see ''—for
Nature is still, even in her utmost glory, a neophyte to the
realms of super-Nature.
After his unbinding, Prometheus addresses Asia as
" light of life — shadow of beauty unbeheld : " a radiancy
and a mystery — a something known to the Mind of Man,
and a something obscurely intimating the unknown and
unknowable. This again is Nature.
And now for the fourth of our inquiries, "Who is
Jupiter?" We have partly glanced at this problem
already ; and have seen — what I will here re-state with
more precision — that, after Prometheus the Human Mind
had given him, or had ascribed to him, wisdom, Jupiter
became the anthropomorphic God of theologians ; and, by
that selfsame act of the Human Mind, Jupiter became the
tyrant of humanity. Shelley (as is abundantly evident
from his drama and from other evidence) considered that,
SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 23
in ascribing wisdom to Jupiter, in clothing Jupiter with
"the dominion of wide Heaven " — or, as we may say (for
this is the essence of it), in anthropomorphizing Deity —
the Human Mind had committed a very great and a rue-
fully fatal error : Shelley held that this anthropomorphic
Deity does not really exist. Whether Shelley was right or
wrong in this opinion I by no means discuss : I simply
say that such was his opinion. The inference is obvious :
That the Jupiter such as he subsisted by the act of the
Human Mind, invested with wisdom and with the dominion
of Heaven, was but a creation of the Human Mind, and
could continue to exist in that character and with that
potency only so long as the Human Mind, which he
tormented, would tolerate his existence. The Human
Mind, when first tortured by this recognized Jupiter, had
cursed him, and defied him as a Fiend : at the close of the
" three-thousand years of sleep-unsheltered hours " the
Human Mind substituted pity for hatred, and revoked the
curse ; and the utter downfall of this wise and powerful
— ail-but all-wise and all-powerful — Jupiter immediately
ensued. These several considerations lead us to strip
the Jupiter of Prometheus Unbound of the wisdom and
dominion which had been delegated to him by Prometheus
the Human Mind : but they do not enable us to under-
stand exactly what Jupiter actually is — what he was, let us
say, before Prometheus had given him wisdom which is
strength, and clothed him with the dominion of wide
Heaven. Pie must, at that antecedent epoch, have been
something. One might at first be inclined to say that he
was Time — according to that phrase in Asia's speech,
" Saturn from whose throne Time fell, an envious shadow";
or that he was Fate — blind Destiny unimbued with
wisdom : but Demogorgon will not allow of this, for he
speaks of certain powers clearly diverse from Jupiter —
"Fate, Time, Occasion, Chance, and Change — to these
•All things are subject but eternal Love."
I will therefore hazard another definition, and say that, as
near as we can name him, Jupiter is, in his own essence,
Fortune, or the Vicissitude of the World. Fortune, a
power destitute of what we call moral attributes, became,
when invested by the Human Mind with wisdom and
24 SHELLE Y'S PROMETHE US UN BO UND.
dominion, an anthropomorphic Deity ; and his operations,
being in fact capricious and unregulated, turned, when
interpreted into acts of unlimited power guided by wisdom,
into tyranny and evil.
It may be confessed that the dramatic position of
Shelley's Jupiter is an ambiguous and hardly a tenable
one. As a dramatis persona he necessarily figures as wise,
the sovereign of Heaven, and tyrannous to man. But (if
I have correctly analysed the core of meaning in the
drama) we know that he is really, in Shelley's conception,
not wise nor the sovereign of Heaven, but only supposed
to be so by Prometheus the Mind of Man in an initial
stage of his own development ; and he is not really
tyrannous to man, but only tyrannizing in and through the
Mind of Man, thus imperfectly developed. This am-
biguity is not inherent in the Greek legend, which, whether
siding with Jupiter or with Prometheus (a point which may
seem of some uncertainty), contemplates both Jupiter and
Prometheus as equally real, or at any rate as equally
symbolic of a real relation of the facts. It is merely
inherent in the re-interpretation of the Greek legend which
Shelley adopts and dramatizes. — I must now leave for your
more leisurely consideration these general data concerning
the Jupiter of Prometheus Unbound, and must proceed
to exhibit the details of the poem upon which my view
The very first words in our drama, spoken by Pro-
metheus, tell us what Jupiter is. He is
" Monarch of Gods and Daemons, and all Spirits —
But one — who throng those bright and rolling worlds ; "
he is that supreme entity which we have called the
Vicissitude of the World ; he has also become the personal
or anthropomorphic God of theology or of superstition ;
but even so he is not the monarch of the one spirit, the
Mind of Man, which persists in exercising its free-will, and
in protesting against the oppression of Vicissitude. We
may conceive him as an elemental and spiritual deity,
robed now in oppression because the Mind of Man
arbitrarily assigned to him wisdom, and dominion over the
concerns of heaven and earth. Prometheus proceeds to
address him as " Almighty, had I deigned to share the
SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 25
shame of thine ill tyranny'': if the Mind of Man acquiesced
in all the evils that are done under the sun, if it ceased to
protest against wrong, Jupiter's power would nowhere
encounter any opposition. In the colloquy (so often
referred to) between Asia and Demogorgon, Asia asks,
" Who made terror, madness, crime, remorse," pain, and
hell, or the sharp fear of hell, and other miserable evils of
the state of man : and Demogorgon replies, " He reigns"
— which is as much as to say " Jupiter made them."
The Vicissitude of the World, construed as the will of the
personal and anthropomorphic God, has produced these
scourges of humankind. When Asia presses Demogorgon
to define the God of whom he had previously spoken as the
author of all good things in the world, whereas Jupiter is
the author of evil things, Demogorgon replies —
' ' I spoke but as ye speak,
For Jove is the supreme of living things."
This amounts to saying — There is no personal supreme
being other than Jupiter : he, as a personal supremacy,
creates only evil : the Universe, and that which is good in
it, subsist independently of him — they are self-subsisting,
and did not come into being by any personal creative
act. Then the Spirit of the Hour of Jupiter's downfall
announces that Demogorgon " shall wrap in lasting night
Heaven's kingless throne." Heaven will exist, and Earth
will exist : but Heaven will be kingless, for Jupiter will
be gone. In the ensuing scene Jupiter himself speaks :
he declares that his antique empire is " built on eldest
faith, and faith's coeval, fear." Not on love, not on truth,
is his empire built, but on faith and fear — or (as we might
paraphrase the terms) on credulity and superstitious
terror : an unstable foundation, therefore a fleeting
empire. And forthwith Heaven's throne becomes king-
less, for Demogorgon arrives, and Jupiter sinks into end-
" Dizzily down — ever, for ever down."
We need follow him no further. As Demogorgon has
just been announcing to Jupiter : —
" The tyranny of Heaven none may retain,
Or reassume or hold, succeeding thee."
26 SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND.
Under the influence of the protest of Prometheus the
Human Mind, and of his final forgiveness and pity, and
at the unevadeable fiat of Demogorgon, Jupiter, the
personal anthropomorphic " Supreme of living things," is
gone, and his place knows him no more.
11 He sunk to the abyss — to the dark void."
Our fifth and last inquiry was to be " Who is Demogor-
gon ? " To this there is, I suppose, only one answer,
being Demogorgon's own answer to Jupiter — he is Eternity.
Jupiter asks, " Awful Shape, what art thou ? Speak ! " and
Demogorgon replies — " Eternity : demand no direr name."
Beyond this decisive explanation, I need only cull a few
illustrative details. The first mention of Demogorgon is
in that speech of Mother Earth, in Act i, where she says
that there are two worlds of life and death — one of these
being a world of shadows, tenanted by the simulacra of
the agents in the other living world, and among the
shadows is "Demogorgon, a tremendous gloom." When
Asia and Panthea have reached the "pinnacle of rock
among mountains," they stand at the portal of Demogor-
gon's realm : hence an oracular vapour is hurled up which
men " call truth, virtue, love, genius, or joy — the madden-
ing wine of life." These are mysterious utterances,
proper to a mysterious subject : in a general way, we
gather that the emotions or faculties thus referred to
emanate from eternity, and partake of its nature. A
" Song of Spirits " addressed to Asia and Panthea says
that " the Eternal, the Immortal," is now to unloose " the
snake-like doom coiled underneath his throne " : this
Eternal or Immortal is none other than Demogorgon. In
the interview with Jupiter, Demogorgon, immediately after
declaring that he is Eternity, adds : —
"lam thy child, as thou wert Saturn's child,
Mightier than thee. And we must dwell together
Henceforth in darkness. "
As Jupiter, the Vicissitude of the World and anthro-
pomorphic God, succeeded Saturn, the author of Time
and patriarchal ruler of a world of semi-humanized man-
kind, so Demogorgon, Eternity, succeeds Jupiter. Jupiter
is merged into and abolished by Eternity. We can, I
SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 27
think, at once seize some part of Shelley's thought in
this assumption : to follow it out by laboured development
or a long train of ratiocination is no part of my under-
taking. In the final scene of all Demogorgon re-appears,
"a mighty Power which is as darkness." He speaks,
with " an universal sound like words," to the Spirit of the
Earth, the Spirit of the Moon, Daemons and Gods, the
Dead, the Elemental Genii, the Living Creatures and Plants
and Phsenomena of the Earth, and to Man ; and terminates
the great ideal drama in the following words : —
" This is the day which down the void abysm,
At the Earth-born's spell, yawns for Heaven's despotism,
And Conquest is dragged captive through the deep.
Love, from its awful throne of patient power
In the wise heart, from the last giddy hour
Of dread endurance, from the slippery, steep,
And narrow verge of crag-like agony, springs,
And folds over the world its healing wings.
"Gentleness, Virtue, Wisdom, and Endurance —
These are the seals of that most firm assurance
Which bars the pit over Destruction's strength ;
And, if with infirm hand Eternity,
Mother of many acts and hours, should free
The serpent that would clasp her with his length,
These are the spells by which to reassume
An empire o'er the disentangled doom.
" To suffer woes which hope thinks infinite ;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night ;
To defy power which seems omnipotent ;
To love and bear ; to hope till hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates ;
Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent ;
This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
Good, great, and joyous, beautiful and free ;
This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory ! "
It will be observed that, in this speech, Demogorgon
refers to Eternity as if it were something other than
himself: he says —
"If with infirm hand Eternity,
Mother of many acts and hours, should free
The serpent that would clasp her with his length."
This phrase need not, however, lessen our conviction that
Demogorgon symbolizes Eternity. He is Eternity per-
sonified — personified so far as " a power which is as
28 SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND.
darkness " can be called personified : and he here speaks
of Eternity in its operations, under a different veil of
personating words, " mother of many acts and hours."
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have now accomplished my
undertaking of considering the main outline and purport
of Prometheus Unbound, under the head of its myth, and
of its four primary personages — Prometheus, Asia, Jupiter,
and Demogorgon ; and I have shown that (according to
my view of the poem) Prometheus is the Mind of Man,
Asia is Nature, Jupiter is the Vicissitude of the World
transmuted into anthropomorphic deity, and Demogorgon
is Eternity. Here therefore I might conclude : but, if you
will bear with me a very little longer, I will with utmost
succinctness say a few more words to sum up the intel-
lectual and moral bearing of a poem than which, as
Blackwood's Magazine averred in 1820, "it is quite im-
possible that there should exist a more pestiferous mix-
ture of blasphemy, sedition, and sensuality." I read
The Universe (spoken of as Heaven, Earth, and Light)
is eternal and self-existing : it had no creator. The
primary powers of the Universe, or (as we may say) its
spiritual functions, are Love, Fate, Occasion, Chance, and
Change. Of these no beginning and no origin can be
predicated, nor yet any end. Of Man, the earliest age is
called the Saturnian Age, when Time became a factor
in the world. Men in that age, being intellectually un-
developed, lived a natural and therefore so far a happy
life, like animals, or indeed like plants. Ultimately
Human Mind was evolved, or, mythically speaking, Pro-
metheus came into being, and was united to Nature, as
in the espousals of man and wife. One of the first acts
of Human Mind was to create a God in his own image :
he assigned wisdom to Jupiter — that is, to the Vicissitude
of the World — and ascribed to him the dominion of
Heaven, stipulating only that man should be free — free
in will and in act. The mere animal happiness, or natural
conformity, of man had lapsed with the birth of Mind :
under the theocracy which the mind of man had estab-
lished, everything went amiss. The natural operations of
the Vicissitude of the World, such as want, toil, and
SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 29
disease, became grievously oppressive when they were
regarded as the decree of Omniscient Omnipotence ; and
the spirit of mankind was a theatre of dismal cravings and
chafings. To this catastrophe of all human well-being
the Mind of Man supplied numerous and noble palliatives ;
but it sank beneath the stern theocratic sway — Prometheus
was bound and tortured. Still the potential remedy for
the multiform and monstrous evil remained in the human
mind itself — it remains in the human mind at this moment.
When the mind shall finally have rejected the delusions
(such Shelley considered them) of theocracy, and shall
have purged itself of the dark passions of hatred and
revenge, then will the moment of emancipation be sound-
ing. Eternity itself will conspire with the human mind
to launch the world of man upon a new career — a career
of boundless progression, in which even the planet which
man inhabits will participate. The theocracy, with all its
attendant evils, will vanish into nothingness ; the Human
Mind will be re-united to Nature in indissoluble and bound-
less concord ; and only chance and death and mutability
will dispute with man the future of his globe.
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